ATLANTA - For those who might've been out enjoying their Friday night and didn't catch yesterday's series opener between the Nationals and Braves, you missed quite a bit of action at Turner Field.
As we await the details of a roster move that will bring right-handed reliever Erik Davis to the big leagues for the first time in his career and likely force either Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg to the disabled list, I've got some bonus quotes from an upbeat Nats clubhouse last night.
Craig Stammen was the talk of the team after relieving an injured Strasburg in the third inning and working four perfect frames, retiring all 12 batters he faced. Despite Stammen's level of success the last couple of seasons, you never know how things will play out when a long reliever is forced into emergency action early in a game. It's a situation that no one can really prepare for, but Stammen stepped up in a big way last night.
"I'm pretty sure once Stephen came out, those guys were like, 'Whew, we got Strasburg out of here and got the long relief guy,' " Denard Span said. "And the long relief guy (usually means) pretty good hitting. Stammen came in and did a hell of a job.
"That's real valuable. Most long guys are guys that don't throw too hard or give you a lot of pitches to hit. Craig came in there and he's real deceptive."
Kurt Suzuki has caught a lot of long relievers in his seven years in the big leagues.
"Craig, to me, is hands-down the best I've seen," Suzuki said. "I always tell him, 'Sheesh, whatever happened? You used to start? What happened?' But that's for another day, I guess."
Stammen's role has changed quite a bit since 2010, his last year as a starter. He transitioned from the starting rotation to a role in the bullpen and now is a guy that can work multiple innings at any time, but also serve as a reliable set-up man, if needed. That versatility provides Davey Johnson with some incredibly valuable options out in the 'pen.
"Yeah I mean, I don't know, I guess it's my motto," Stammen said last night. "I'll try to do whatever they tell me to do, and try to do it as best I can. Tonight, it was to pitch four innings."
The Nationals are calling up Davis largely because Stammen and Tyler Clippard are likely both unavailable after throwing so many pitches last night. But ever the workhorse, Stammen said he'll be ready again tonight if he's needed.
"I'll be here (Saturday). I'll have my cleats on," Stammen said. "If it goes 20 innings, I'm sure I could flip something up there."
It will be very interesting to see how the Nationals play things if Strasburg needs to miss a start or land on the disabled list. If Ross Detwiler returns from his oblique injury soon, Nathan Karns could then slide into Strasburg's spot in the rotation, assuming Karns continues to fare pretty well at this level. That, of course, is a huge assumption. If the Nats need to go another route, their options at Triple-A Syracuse are limited with Chris Young on the DL (and struggling mightily prior to getting injured).
Ross Ohlendorf has pitched fairly well lately and is a possibility. So is left-hander Danny Rosenbaum. But while Johnson really likes having Stammen in his current role, you wonder whether he wouldn't be the Nats' best option to slide into the rotation given how effective he's been and his past history as a starter.
Span, meanwhile, tripled twice and scored two runs last night, leading the Nationals' offensive attack. You don't see a player post a two-triple game very often, but for Span, it was a been-there, done-that situation. Actually, he'd recorded a rare three-triple game previously in his career, back on June 29, 2010 against the Tigers.
"I was on deck (in the seventh inning)," Span said last night, "and some fans were like, 'I've never seen two triples in a game! Oh my God, it's unbelievable!' I'm like, 'Well I had three (in a game) in 2010.' Kind of toot my own horn a little bit."
Both of Span's triples last night led off innings and both were followed immediately by a Steve Lombardozzi sac fly to right. It's that kind of situational hitting that the Nats have been lacking for much of this season, and that's something Span says the Nats need to be better at.
"Yeah, definitely. I think that's gonna help us a lot along the way," he said. "Especially playing these good teams like Atlanta and some of these other good ballclubs, you're not always going to be able to score eight, nine runs. You're gonna have games where you win by one or two and to get guys over and get guys in. That's the way you're gonna win the division and go to the playoffs."
The Nats finished off May on a positive note last night, but like April, it was a very rocky month for them. They suffered a host of injuries to Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos, Ross Detwiler, Ryan Mattheus and now Strasburg, posted another negative run differential and end the month just where they finished April, 4 1/2 games back of the Braves.
"Uncle," Suzuki said. "But hey, that's what makes you a better team, right? Pull through, everybody gets the opportunity, when guys come back, start rolling."